Covering Ground with Native Ornamental Grass and Sedge

Appalachian sedge forms a dense border beneath amsonia and sumac.

Turfgrass and ornamental grass share the same last name, but they are very different plants. What's important is that ornamental grasses and their cousins, the sedges, are great problem-solvers, capable of filling niches where turfgrass is faint of heart.

Let’s consider the differences:

1. Turfgrass varieties become a lawn by spreading shallow roots. Ornamental grasses, by contrast, almost universally stay in place as they grow into a “bunching” form.

2. Where turfgrass varieties can handle mowing and foot traffic, ornamental grasses are selected for their height and color.

3. Turfgrass species in our area are “cool season” varieties, a distinct genetic type. They look best during spring and fall. Many ornamental kinds of grass, in contrast, are warm-season genetic types that look best when the weather is hot and dry. Even cool season ornamental grasses withstand hot, dry weather better than most turfgrass, possibly because ornamental grass roots range from one to twelve feet deep, sometimes more.  These roots can find deep groundwater sources once they are mature.

4. Deep roots also help them survive the rigors of sloping landscapes, where turfgrass often struggles. After all, turfgrass roots are usually about six inches deep.

5. As for their ecological impact, native ornamental grass provides both food and protective cover for birds, insects, and wildlife. Turfgrass offers little value to wildlife, partly because of mowing.

Ready to cover ground with ornamental grasses? Let’s go. See my article at The Day/Zip06. The visit the native ornamental grass and sedge plant list. If you are having trouble with the links, please download the PDFs below.